Dr. Sinéad Brennan, Chief People Officer, Principal Connections executive search’ HR Leader of the Month for September 2020
Q. THE CAREER & THE PERSON Describe your career journey and tell us about Sinéad Brennan the person?
I started my career in a small HR consultancy firm as part of a graduate development programme. I made a few career moves in my twenties across various sectors including software into professional services where I progressed from HR Manager to become HR Director with BDO Ireland. Just before the financial crisis I moved into the banking sector, working through interesting and challenging times in that period. My most recent move to the NTMA was just over six years ago and I’m currently Chief People Officer with accountability for HR, Public Affairs and Communications.
I’m a Board member of Aware, the mental health charity that is doing critical work supporting people and their families in the area of stress, depression, bipolar disorder and mood related conditions. I’m a member of the NTMA Executive Committee and the ICT Steering Committee; I’m the sponsor of our Inclusion and Diversity strategy and lead our Gender Matters initiative. Outside of work, I’m Mum to two boys who keep us busy all of the time and I’m blessed to have a very supportive and patient husband.
Q. THE COMPANY Describe your current organisation?
The National Treasury Management Agency (NTMA) is over 30 years old. It is a State body which operates with a commercial remit to provide asset and liability management services to Government. It has evolved from a single function agency managing the National Debt to a manager of a complex portfolio of public assets and liabilities. The NTMA operates across five separate business units: Funding and Debt Management, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund, the National Development Finance Agency, NewERA and the State Claims Agency. The NTMA also provides staff and business support services to: NAMA, SBCI and HBFI.
The HR team in the NTMA partners with the various business units (including NAMA, SBCI and HBFI) to create a positive work environment where people can thrive and deliver their best.
Given the variety of activities in the Agency, that means we get the opportunity to work with a broad range of professions whether its investment professionals, solicitors, engineers, corporate financiers etc… when you’re supporting over 800 employees no two days are the same!
Q. THE CHALLENGES What do you see as the most important challenges facing HR Leaders today?
‘The Future of Work is here’ is a mantra we’re hearing a lot these days but given the world we’re all finding ourselves in at a global level with the pandemic, I believe the greatest challenge facing HR is how to maintain our company culture and our team dynamics and sense of connectedness at a time when we’re all working remotely.
Post Covid-19, I think the challenges will be how we retain the positives associated with remote working during the pandemic? How can we best implement a hybrid work model with a mix of onsite and remote working and ensure that it is effective, that it delivers on our strategies successfully, and that it allows us to maintain an inclusive and equitable workplace for all employees?
Q. THE ADVANCES What do you believe the biggest advances in human resources will be over the next five years?
I think this is linked to the previous question and we’re now finding that the intersection and partnership between technology and people is critical. There’s still a lot to learn about how best to integrate these and to learn new ways of working or new habits so that we’re capitalising on the technology available. At this stage, I think many HR teams are only looking at and ‘dipping our toes in’ where technology and AI is concerned.
Q. THE ADVICE What’s the best piece of career advice you’ve ever received?
I’m very fortunate to have had good leaders and mentors over the years and more recent advice has been to ‘get out there, get connected and create a better network’ so that you can have a broader perspective when faced with business challenges. I’ve really focused on that piece of advice over the last year or so.
Q. THE MOTIVATION What keeps you motivated day to day?
Change and keeping things fresh, making sure we’re creating the best working environment we can for our people. I like to keep abreast of the latest trends in HR and see how these can be applied in the NTMA for the benefit of our people. I also want the team around me to keep abreast of the latest thinking as I believe that energises them (and me!).
Q. THE ACHIEVEMENT What has been your proudest career achievement to date?
The stellar achievements by the people in the NTMA over the last six months; the energy, enthusiasm and ‘can do’ attitude from the day we had to implement a primarily remote model was a moment to be proud of.
The cultural pillars of self-leadership, collaboration and learning that the HR team have been focusing on for a number of years came to the fore and all business operations were up and running and delivering on our mandates within a very short period with business continuing as if we were all onsite. So, I would say that made me proud to see the efforts the HR team had put into focusing on our culture for the last number of years come to fruition.
On a personal level, it was being awarded the Pearse Walsh medal in 2019 for my contribution to HR through my academic research.
Q. THE INSPIRATION Who inspires you professionally?
I was privileged to hear the fabulous Herminia Ibarra speak at a conference a number of years ago and then more recently got the opportunity to attend a Women in Leadership Programme that she was running in London.
Herminia is an organisational behaviour professor at London Business School and coined the phrase ‘authenticity paradox’. That phrase really resonated with me as she challenges us to be mindful of our authentic selves so that we don’t become pigeonholed. She states that to become better leaders we need to challenge ourselves to do the things that a rigidly authentic sense of self would keep us from doing. It’s certainly not easy… but it is great advice.
Q. THE STAYING CURRENT How do you stay up to date?
I’ve always been an avid reader and was fortunate to have been afforded the opportunity to continue my studies while working, most recently completing my PhD. This has always allowed me to keep up-to-date with the latest trends and progress in HR.
I’m also a member of the CIPD and attend their events as well as a member of other networks in the industry. I’m also a good for an ‘auld chat’ and catch-up. It’s always useful to hear how we’re really doing in the Agency and across the HR profession.
Q. THE DOWNTIMETell us about your interests and how you relax?
As I’ve said, I’m Mum to two boys so it’s no surprise to hear me say my second job feels like I run a taxi service. I can be found on the side-lines of a pitch most Saturday and Sunday mornings.
During the lockdown I took to the bike for cycles with the family to learn more about our locality and I’ve also recently joined the local tennis club (albeit that I’m playing very badly!). I’m lucky to have a good circle of friends, so catch-ups through walks or over good food are also my ways to relax.
Congratulations to Dr Sinéad Brennan being named the Principal Connections HR Leader of the Month for September 2020.
ABOUT THE NATIONAL TREASURY MANANGEMENT AGENCY
The National Treasury Management Agency provides a range of asset and liability management services to Government.
These services include borrowing on behalf of the Government and management of the National Debt, the State Claims Agency, NewERA, the Ireland Strategic Investment Fund and the National Development Finance Agency.
It also assigns staff and provides business and support services and systems to the National Asset Management Agency, the Strategic Banking Corporation of Ireland and Home Building Finance Ireland.
ABOUT PRINCIPAL CONNECTIONS
Principal Connections is Ireland’s leading retained Executive Search and Leadership Consulting Firm. We offer five interrelated Talent Acquisition & Advisory Services to Private, Public and Not-For-Profit Organisations across Ireland: Senior Executive Search, Professional Search, Advertised Selection, Senior Interim Management, Board & Non-Executive Director/Chair Recruitment and a comprehensive suite of Leadership Consulting & Assessment Solutions.
Principal Connections is also the Irish Office of Agilium Worldwide Executive Search Group. Established in 1984, Agilium Worldwide is one the world’s largest Global Executive Search Organisations. Together with our colleagues across 55 offices in 30 countries, each year we complete in excess of 1300 assignments within most Major Industries and Functional Areas at Senior Management, Executive and Board level.